Franchisers, Facing Challenges to Business Model, Punch Back

Keith Miller, a Subway franchisee in California who has become an advocate for franchisee rights, said the lack of oversight had given rise to an increasing number of disputes. “There’s more of a squeeze on the franchisees than ever,” he said. Franchisees’ royalty payments used to cover things like marketing, new menus and sales tools, he added, but “now you seem to have to pay for your services.”

The franchise industry says that its business model remains beneficial to individual owners, and that additional regulation would protect substandard franchisees at everyone else’s expense. Matthew Haller, chief executive of the International Franchise Association, cited a 2021 survey by the market research firm Franchise Business Review in which 82 percent of franchisees said they supported their corporate leadership.

But legislative battles at the state level reflect rising tension.

Hotel franchisees, squeezed by lost revenue during pandemic lockdowns, say they have also been hurt by the hotel brands’ loyalty programs, which require the hotelier to rent rooms at a reduced rate. A bill in New Jersey that would limit those loyalty programs, as well as rebates that brands can collect from vendors that franchisees are required to use, faces fierce opposition from the American Hotel and Lodging Association. In a statement, the association’s chief executive, Chip Rogers, said the bill would “completely undermine the foundation of hotel franchising by limiting a brand’s ability to enforce brand standards.”

Laura Lee Blake, the chief executive of the 20,000-member Asian American Hotel Owners Association, said hoteliers had reached desperation. “There comes a point when you’ve tried and tried to meet with the franchisers to ask for changes, and they refuse to listen,” she said.

In Arizona, legislation introduced to enhance franchisees’ ability to sell their businesses and prevent retaliation from franchisers if they band together in associations has also faced resistance. The bill was approved by two committees in February and March, but the International Franchise Association hired two lobbying firms to fight it.

In a Republican caucus meeting, opponents attacked the legislation as a “sledgehammer” that would bring the government into private business relationships. The bill’s sponsor, Representative Anastasia Travers, a freshman Democrat, said she was taken aback by how quickly opposition snowballed, and ultimately gave up on it for the 2023 session.

“Time has not been my friend,” Ms. Travers said.

A similar bill in Arkansas, which the International Franchise Association initially said would be “the most extreme franchise regulation of any state,” was amended to strip entire sections, including one that would have prevented franchisers from imposing any requirement that “unreasonably changes” the financial terms of the relationship as a condition of renewal or sale.